Camping (Dread pt.4)

The twilight hours were Arlo's least favorite time of day. He could never put his finger on what exactly it was about this blending of day and night that made him so uncomfortable. It could have been the way shadows danced between the realms of light and dark as the sun fell below the horizon or the wall of silence enveloping every living creature the sun no longer touched. Arlo tried to hide his effort to avoid the shadows on the road, but his half-brother knew. Xander had always known Arlo was afraid of the dark and it wasn't for the reason most would guess. Arlo didn't worry about monsters or beasts, he just couldn't see. Elves and Half-elves have always been able to see in the poorest lit conditions, but Arlo inherited more human than elf.

Xander watched his brother carefully from the back of the caravan as the shadows grew darker and wider. His pace was beginning to slow.

“How much longer till we reach the inn?” Xander asked picking up his pace.

“We aren't going to an inn,” Nox responded. “We are headed to my camp back in the forest. I can't clean the wolf at an inn. Last time I tried it didn't go well.”

The trio exchanged worried glances at each other. They may not be road as savvy as professional mercs, but even they knew about stranger danger. Marine was the one who spoke out.

“Is there something wrong with the inns around Autumn Hill?”

“No there isn't anything wrong with them,” Nox replied, “your summons suggested starting your search around the mines and my camp is closer to the mines than any of the inns would be.”

“So we are going to give up sleeping in beds and hot food for sleeping outside and the possibility of cold food all because it will put us closer to the assumed location of the old elf,” Xander questioned.

Arlo looked over at Nox with a fearful expression.

“We wouldn't really be sleeping outside, would we?” Arlo pulled his cloak tighter around himself. Nox's yellow eyes searched him for the reason behind his nervous behavior.

“I have a decent sized yurt with a fire pit and plenty of space for the three of you,” Nox said rolling her eyes. “And its not going to cost you any money. Plus based on the type of summons you have, there are probably others who have the same thing. The closer you can get to the mine before morning, the better chance you'll have at finding Mrs. Winters.”

Nox lead the group off the road and into the forest which was growing darker by the second. Marine was growing concerned for Arlo as he was jumping at every noise that came through the trees. Xander started walking closer to Arlo in the hopes it would provide a little bit of comfort. Nox's eyes became reflective like a cat's as her darkvision kicked in. Marine's eyes also gained a subtle reflective quality.

“You not use your darkvision much, dwarf?” Nox said flatly. “Wouldn't surprise me.”

“Living in the city means I never had a need for it,” Marine replied shifting in the saddle uncomfortably.

“And what about you...” Nox started to say to Arlo, but she stopped when she saw no change in Arlo's eyes. His discomfort made a little more sense to her now. Xander was glaring up at her waiting to defend his half-brother's abnormalities. “Camp should be coming up soon.”

“There's a fire up ahead,” Arlo said with excitement. The horse whinnied and tried to trot off which was a good sign to the trio that they had reached their destination. Nox kept a tight hold on the reins, helped Marine off the saddle, and let the horse trot to the fire. The wolf carcass fell off the back of the horse next to a tree just at the edge of the fire's glow.

“Seems another guest will be joining us tonight,” Nox said smiling for the first time. Seeing Nox express a positive emotion set the trio at ease. The three looked around, but saw no one else. Even Nox with her advanced darkvision couldn't see anyone else at the camp sight.

“I don't see anyone,” Marine said checking around the fire. An uneasy feeling began to grow in the pit off her stomach. Arlo quickly joined her by the fire and sat down close to the bright flames. Xander slowly made it way to the fire and sat down on a log that had been made into a make-shift bench making sure to keep an eye on Nox while she began gutting and skinning the wolf. Marine poked her head inside of the yurt to make sure no one was hiding inside. She saw an unlit firepit and stacks of black pelts she guessed to be other wolfs.

“Iliana is probably looking for more firewood,” Nox said as she cut open the wolf in one swift motion. “You're welcome to start the fire inside if being out here isn't to your liking.”

Arlo immediately handed the staff to Marine and went into the yurt to try starting the fire, Xander followed to make sure Arlo's efforts would not be in vain. Marine once again tried to make some kind of connection with the magic inside of the staff. She closed her eyes and focused on the core where the magic resided and asked nicely if the staff would allow her to use it. Two waves over energy passed under her palms, but then sank back into the core. Marine let out a sigh and set the staff down next to her. She put her hands up towards the fire to keep warm. The boys let out a cry of happiness and the inside of the yurt gave off a faint orange glow. Nox turned around to make sure they had not set her home on fire.

“You won't panic if I leave for a few minutes to dispose of the innards, right dwarf?” Nox said pulling the guts out of the wolf.

“No, I'll be okay, and you can call me Marine,” she responded. Nox ignored Marine and silently slipped into the darkness.